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Agriculture is key to our state's economy, culture, and history. It is our leading industry with roughly $16 billion contributed to the Natural State economy each year. With rice, soybeans, cotton, corn, cattle, and wheat, we at Arkansas Public Media pledge to report on issues that impact not just this industry, but this leading way of life in our state.

Arkansas State Plant Board Welcomes New Director

Butch Calhoun, seen here in his soybean fields, takes over as head of the Arkansas State Plant Board on Monday, Aug. 13, 2018.

The Arkansas State Plant Board welcomes a new director on Monday.  Butch Calhoun will lead the 101-year-old agency that regulates agricultural policies in the state.  It's the same board that made the closely-watched decision last fall to ban the herbicide dicamba.  Calhoun, who's a native of Des Arc, spoke with Ann Kenda of Arkansas Public Media about his thoughts going into this high-profile position.

He takes over from Terry Walker, who announced his retirement last month.

KENDA: Butch Calhoun served as Arkanas's second Secretary of Agriculture, retiring in 2014.  He also served four terms in the state legislature and five terms as county judge. He's also a lifelong farmer of rice and soybeans.  Now, he's taking over the top job at the Arkansas State Plant Board, which is in its 101st year.

CALHOUN: Like I said, I farmed most all of my life.  From the time I was old enough to be on a tractor,  I've been on a tractor and around agriculture.  I was on a bank board one time, a little agricultural bank over in this part of the state, that eventually sold out to a big one and served on different things and always just loved agriculture.  When I got the opportunity to be Secretary, I enjoyed that thoroughly. I just thought it was time for me to retire and come back home, but the opportunity came up that the Plant Board's director's job was going to be open.  It's one of the most important things for agriculture in the state is the plant board. And so I felt like the opportunity arose and I felt like that's what I needed to do. And I'm looking forward to working in agriculture again on this part of the industry.  I just think it was time for me to do it.  I think it'll be interesting.  It's such a needed position.  The plant board is so important to farmers.  It's been around since 1917, the Arkansas State Plant Board has.  It's a regulatory agency.  It has a lot going on.  We touch all different aspects of agriculture. I'm looking foward to, there's some good people that work over there and I'm looking forward to being involved in it.  We've got a good plant board.

KENDA: In this position, do you expect to work closely with growers and farmers?

CALHOUN: I'm sure we will.  Like I said, it's a regulatory agency and we do some licensing and different things.  And keep up with what chemicals are being used. We also have a divison for weights and standards and the seed divison and the fertilizer division.  It just reaches all aspects of agriculture here in the state.  And the quality of life.

KENDA: So far, can you tell what the important issues are going to be in this new position?

CALHOUN: Well, of course for the last couple of years the burning issue has been a chemical called dicamba.  And I know that continues to, I've looked at the annual reports from the agency in the past, and I know that continues to be a problem.  It was banned last year, from the April the 15th I think to October the 15th.  Apparently, there's still some use going on.  It's a very divided issue, some people wanting to use it, some want it completely banned. It's going to be, it's going to take a lot of time. I think one of my plusses, if I have any, is getting to work with people and talk with people.  It'll be up to the plant board, the actual plant board, to what happens with it in the future and I think that'll be one of the main issues facing the state and the agricultural industry in the next year.

KENDA: How do you feel about taking on a position of this much imporance?

CALHOUN: Well, I feel good about it. Like I said, I've always been fortunate in my life, whether it was farming or when I was county judge or running state agencies, in surrounding myself with good people. And I feel that way at the plant board.  There's a lot of good people that work there, and the plant board itself is made of people who know about their industry and farming and things.  I like to be surrounded by people I can get ideas from and kind of lead by example and that sort of thing.  I think it'll be good.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

Ann Kenda joined Arkansas Public Media in January 2017 from Sudbury, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Syracuse University and previously worked in public radio, commercial radio and newspaper in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. She focuses on health, justice, education and energy as part of the Arkansas Public Media team. Her stories can be found on the airwaves, and social media.
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